Those Achy Joints

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As we age, getting out there for that basketball game, jog or tennis game can begin to take its toll on our joints.  Minimally, our joints may feel a little bit achy, but if you have real pain, swelling and/or limited movement lasting for more than two weeks, you may very well have arthritis.

There are two main forms of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common form, is an autoimmune disease. The most common form of arthritis, and the form that commonly affects active and athletic people, is osteoarthritis.

A normal joint is enclosed in what is known as the joint capsule.  An inner lining, called the synovial membrane, releases synovial fluid into the space between the bones.  The ends of the bones are covered with cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber.  However, in a joint with osteoarthritis, this cartilage breaks down, causing the bones to rub together.  If the bone ends begin to thicken, painful growths known as spurs will form.

Although not a fatal disease, osteoarthritis is not curable.  Pain and stiffness can persist for long periods of time, which can make simple activities such as walking, getting up and down from a chair, or lifting and carrying, very difficult to accomplish.

Therapy for arthritis has four major goals: 1) easing pain; 2) decreasing inflammation; 3) improving function and 4) lessening joint damage.  Treatment includes medication, exercise, rest, use of cold and heat, joint protection, and on occasion, surgery such as knee or hip replacement.  The American College of Rheumatology states that treatment should include the following:

Lifestyle Changes:  Exercises to strengthen muscles, weight loss to take stress off joints, and the use of assistive devices like canes where needed 

Pain Management:  Physical therapy, drugs and surgery for more severe pain

Patient Education:  Informing patients about the disease, providing tools to help overcome pain, and helping them adjust to their situation

Although rest remains important during flare-ups, inactivity can lead to weak muscles, stiff joints and reduced range of motion. Numerous studies have concluded that regular exercise, including stretching, aerobic and resistance training, are all effective in improving the fitness of patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The potential benefits include improving joint function and range of motion, mood elevation, increased muscular strength, and aerobic fitness to enhance the activities of daily living. (ADLs).

Experts recommend a comprehensive exercise program to improve joint range of motion and flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and aerobic endurance. As exercises should be tailored to the patient’s specific needs, a supervised program is recommended. For people experiencing arthritis, maintaining a balanced exercise program can “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 12 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at [email protected]  Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il

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